She came bounding into the room, “Why is the car running outside and why is the door open?” It wasn’t until she saw her mother bent over the sweaty body of her step-father that all the color left her face.
“What’s wrong!” she screamed.
He was panting. Breathing hard. Flat on his back, having fallen there after momentarily losing his balance. Sweat ran down like a faucet. His extended belly looked bigger as he lay there, strangely positioned at an angle between the sofa and the wall. She could tell he was working harder than he ever had to take air in and out of once powerful lungs. He was conscious, but just barely.
“Call the ambulance!” she heard herself screaming.
“No!” her mother replied. “He didn’t want me to call them. We’ve got the car running. We’ll take him to the ER that way.”
Her mind was numb, in shock, yet she knew—if no one else did—that there was no way they were going to get him into that car. He was a massive man and all of him, every inch, was dead weight. She thought about what she’d just thought about, and automatically edited her internal script.
Trying to be gentle, but maybe missing that mark she said, “Mom, we can’t get him to the door, let alone to the car. Someone needs to call an ambulance.”
Her mother insisted it wasn’t his wish.
“Mom, we need to call the ambulance now! If you can’t, I will!”
Her sister-in-law finally did the deed, rousing a gang of locally-trained volunteers from their holiday warmth and getting them into their gear. It was Christmas morning.
While he lay there barely breathing, and while the others did what they did, she left the room. A voice now sounded loud and clear in her conscience. “Pray!” She obeyed.
“God, this is bad. Really bad! If he dies on that living room floor while we all stand around not knowing what to do to help, we’ll blame ourselves the rest of our lives. Please, send someone who knows CPR, someone who can help us keep him alive until the ambulance comes!”
Later, she’d come to realize what a selfish prayer it was, but in that moment, it was the only thing she knew to do.
As she paced the floor and asked for the same thing of God, over and over again, her husband drove to the corner of that country road that connected to her step-father’s property. There, he waited for the ambulance to arrive. Soon after, a young man pulled up.
“Are you waiting here for the ambulance? I heard a call go out and thought I could help.” Quickly, he took the stranger to the house, to the man, to the crisis. He was there as her step-father breathed his last. As he became unresponsive. As a strange man began pushing, hard, on the middle of his chest. As life faded away.
The stranger was a member of the armed forces, serving in Virginia. He’d decided to make a trip home to Pennsylvania to be with his parents over the holidays. He was staying in his parent’s home when he decided to take a drive in the country—on a frigidly cold Christmas morning–by himself–in their neighborhood–seven miles from town. Not only did he possess the experience they needed at the exact moment they needed it, but he did so with compassion and expertise. He’d continued to keep the rhythm until the ambulance crew arrived and a group of local volunteers had taken over.
Life was never the same after that day, which was a sad reality for the family. But guilt was not a part of the equation going forward.
The glory of God shined into a tragic situation, in a broken down farm-house, on a snowy Christmas morning. Some say it was an angel performing miracles? We’ll let you decide that for yourself. As for the narrator of this story, she came to believe!